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Domestic Fans May Attend Olympic Events, No Foreign Spectators

NOEL KING, HOST:

The organizers of the Olympics have changed their position, and now they say people who live in Japan can attend the games, but only if there is not a state of emergency in effect in the country. No foreign spectators will be allowed at the Olympic Games. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following this story from Seoul. Hey, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So this is a big change. How many fans are going to be allowed to watch and under what circumstances?

KUHN: Well, the organizers held a meeting today and announced their decision to allow 50% of capacity at Olympic venues up to a maximum of 10,000 domestic fans. Overseas spectators are already banned from attending. The organizers add, though, that this could change if there is a spike in infections or if another state of emergency is declared, in which case they could ban all spectators.

KING: Japan just lifted a state of emergency for big parts of the country today. How is the country doing? What's the state of the pandemic there?

KUHN: Well, as you say, they just lifted a third of the state of emergency on Tokyo and other regions, and they just slowly and with great difficulty suppressed a fourth wave of infections. And on the positive side, they've made rapid progress with vaccinations in recent weeks. Probably about 15 to 20% of the population has had at least one dose of the vaccine now, and they're approaching the government's goal of administering a million vaccine doses a day. However, most Japanese are still dissatisfied with the government's response to the pandemic and the speed of the vaccine rollout.

KING: One of the things that has made people so nervous about the Olympics is all of these athletes coming from all over the world with their coaches. What if somebody tests positive? That actually did happen recently, right? Japan turned an athlete away when his test came back positive.

KUHN: Yeah. This was one of a delegation of nine athletes and coaches from Uganda who are completing in - competing in swimming, boxing and weightlifting. And one of the nine tested positive at Narita Airport outside Tokyo over the weekend, and so he was denied entry. And the government says that this athlete can enter the country after testing negative.

KING: But this raises the larger point, which is that people in Japan are certainly concerned that the games are going to spread COVID. How is the government responding to that concern?

KUHN: Well, it probably confirmed a lot of people's concerns. There was a weekend poll by the Kyodo News agency that shows 86% of respondents fear that the games will cause infections to rebound. Government advisers say the safest thing to do is just ban all spectators. So in response, the government has done things like canceling public viewing at sites in Tokyo with large TV screens and converting those venues into vaccination centers. Also, Olympic officials and their family members will be cut by 25,000. There will still be 53,000 of them. And organizers say they're dropping plans to distribute free condoms to athletes in the Olympic Villages...

KING: Oh.

KUHN: ...Village. Now, the thing is that organizers have been giving them out since the Seoul games in 1988 to promote awareness of safe sex. But organizers have been coming in for some criticism because of plans to hand out condoms, but not face masks. So they've decided they'll just give the athletes the condoms to take home when they leave Japan.

KING: OK. NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Seoul. Thank you so much, Anthony.

KUHN: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.